Legatus--Chicago Chapter Park Ridge, IL January 29, 1998
years ago, in 1920, the great English Catholic journalist G.K.
Chesterton wrote, concerning the "child care" issue of
people cannot mind their own business, it cannot possibly be
more economical to pay them to mind each other's business, and
still less to mind each other's babies....Ultimately, we are
arguing that a woman should not be a mother to her own baby,
but a nursemaid to somebody else's baby. But it will not work,
even on paper. We cannot all live by taking in each other's
washing, especially in the form of pinafores....
ahead now, to the White House Conference on Child Care, held
this last October, under the auspicious joint chairmanship of
Hillary Clinton, President Clinton, and Vice President Al Gore.
The most wildly applauded line by the most
enthusiastically-received speaker--(California child care
consultant Patty Siegel)--was this: (and I quote) "The
child care crisis is so acute that child care workers in many
areas of the country are unable to find adequate day care for
their own children."
Chesterton's little joke, his reductio ad absurdum of 1920, has
in the Age of Clinton become white hot truth: the core of the
was one of only two conservatives who managed to gain an
invitation to this White House Conference on Child Care. In many
ways, it was like entering a carnival house-of-mirrors, a place
where all is not as it seems, where reality becomes distorted,
sometimes in grotesque ways.
example, during a day-long White House meeting devoted to the
care of children, the word "mother" was almost never
uttered. One telling exception came in a special film prepared
for the event, where a child says of his day care worker:
"Martine was almost like a mother to me." Otherwise,
the concept of "mothering" was considered the
equivalent of profanity. Instead, the term of choice was
"care giver." While the generic term,
"parent," would occasionally creep in, it would
usually be for uses such as: "parents want quality child
bizarre, however, was the elevation of "safe, affordable,
and accessible" child care into issues of economic
competitiveness and national security. Secretary of the Treasury
Robert Rubin, serving on the first White House panel, credited
"the solid program of President Clinton" for five
years of economic progress: the number of jobs was up; inflation
was flat. He went on: "My great concern is that this
prosperity will mask the challenges that we face. A key question
is: how do we create an environment that will increase
productivity? The answer is that we need a flexible and mobile
workforce to which everyone can contribute to the limits of
their [sic] ability." And this workforce, he stressed,
needs federally subsidized child care.
only 30% of mothers with children under age six worked in 1970,
the figure was 62% in 1997, and Rubin praised several model
companies that counted 94 percent of new mothers returning to
work. Interestingly, he acknowledged that the market was
dysfunctional in spreading corporate child care. Its future
growth, he said, required a "public-private
partnership" (code words for federal subsidy) and a
"massive effort to improve citizen knowledge about what we
need to do to succeed in the global economy."
General John G. Meyer, Jr., recently Commanding General of the
U.S. Army's Community and Family Support Center, then gave a
glowing account of military success in the nursery. "Child
care is critical to the Department of Defense's bottom
line," he declared, sitting alongside the First Lady.
"Supporting the care and development of children is a
responsibility the military readily assumes in exchange for the
loyalty of their parents in uniform." After a massive
increase in spending on child care and development programs, the
Department of Defense now cares each day for over 200,000
children in some 800 centers, making the Pentagon the nation's
largest child care provider. Last April, President Clinton
ordered the military services to proselytize actively in the
civilian world, spreading the new Pentagon gospel of
"commitment, standards, and funding" for adequate
going on? Why do new mothers seem to choose day care over home
care? Why are businesses under mounting pressure to move into
the child care business? Why is a 'downsizing' military shifting
resources from maintaining "combat divisions" and
building "warships" into the construction of child
one level, the answer is economic: simple family necessity.
There is truth to the lament, frequently heard, that "one
income is not enough to support a family these days." It is
also true that this was not always so.
1970, we can show that a "family wage" system
prevailed in the United States, where the common assumption was
"one principle wage per family." This was not the
result of law, but rather of custom and a kind of collective
common sense, where the higher paying jobs tended to be held by
husbands and fathers. This enabled mothers to stay home when the
children were young, without major economic sacrifice. The paid
labor of wives was deemed supplemental, and most Americans
instinctively understood that normal family life rested in part
on this arrangement. Indeed, polls from the early 1960's found
over 80 percent of Americans giving their support to this
system. As late as 1965, even the Lyndon Johnson administration
would lecture the United Nations about "the basic
[American] legal principle that places on the husband the
primary responsibility for support of his wife and family with
secondary liability devolving on the wife."
concept, I should note, enjoyed the full affirmation of Catholic
social teaching. As Pope Pius XI explained in his 1931
encyclical, QUADRAGESINO ANNO: "Every effort must...be
made" to ensure "that fathers of families receive a
wage large enough to meet ordinary family needs
the American "family wage" would not survive the
tumultuous 1960's. A principle cause was the addition of the
word "sex" to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964. Ironically, this amendment was first proposed by Southern
Dixiecrats, or segregationists, as a last-ditch "killer
amendment" to the Civil Rights bill, Title VII of which was
to help black men gain better jobs and become better fathers.
But through a huge miscalculation, their mischievous proposal
won adoption and became law.
1970, Title VII had been transformed by feminist ideologues into
a weapon to tear down the "family wage" in America.
While overall household incomes would rise over the next quarter
century, the increase came solely from higher earnings for
working wives and mothers. Adjusted for inflation, the median
income of men, ages 15 and above, working full time, fell from
$37,200 in 1973 to only $32,000 in 1996, a decline of 15
percent. Housing and mortgage markets also adjusted to this new
"two earner" reality. Wives earnings had become much
more critical to family well being than was true before 1970,
turning child care into a real issue.
the same, more than legislative accident lay behind this change.
Back in the 1930's, the Swedish radical Alva Myrdal had begun to
craft a new ideology, one fusing together the socialist doctrine
of a massive welfare state to a feminist vision of liberation.
The common denominators were the elimination of marriage as an
economic institution, the transformation of the home into a mere
manager of state benefits, and the full-time, life-long
employment of women, particularly in the burgeoning state
sector. The natural bonds of mothers to babies--the facts that
only women can bear children and nurse them with mother's
milk--were big obstacles to this vision. But the solution was
obvious: substitute child care, subsidized by the growing
was a fledgling American version of this ideology that the
Dixiecrats unwittingly aided and abetted in the 1964 Civil
Rights debate. But the new American feminism quickly matured and
radicalized, with the home and marriage as their general
targets, and with the maternal care of babies and toddlers as
the specific focus of assault.
1971, Congress approved a massive new "child
development" entitlement that would have put virtually all
U.S. children in federally run "health, education, and
social service centers." President Richard Nixon, to his
everlasting credit, vetoed the measure, correctly arguing that
the bill would have committed "the vast moral authority of
the federal government to the side of communal approaches to
childrearing as against a family centered approach."
However, the very same year, Congress approved and the President
signed a companion measure increasing the income-tax deduction
allowed for the purchase of commercial child care, shifting the
incentives in favor of Social parenting.
would come. In 1974, Congress added Title XX to the Social
Security Act, creating a Federal child care system that soon
embraced over one million children. Two years later, Congress
altered and expanded the tax preferences given to commercial
child care, creating what one Senator correctly called "a
$800 subsidy" per household for non-parental childrearing.
In 1984, Congress raised the maximum figure to $1,440. The push
for expanded Federal subsidy of non-parental care appeared again
in the early 1990's--in the so-called ABC bill--but was just
barely beaten back.
1997 and 1998, though, Mrs. Clinton is guiding a new campaign,
one that deserves recognition for its sweep and clever
packaging. It began last Spring, with a White House conference
on brain development in infants and children. Conferees focused
on a wealth of new information showing on the vital need of
newborns, infants, and toddlers for the touch, sounds, games,
and interaction provided by a reliable giver of care. Indeed,
the very physical and chemical growth of the brain depends on
this intensive, fulltime care. Revealingly, though, the White
House conferees ignored the equally compelling evidence that
breastmilk--human milk--also contributes greatly (and
independently) to brain development in ways that artificial
formulas cannot reproduce. This data was ignored for the obvious
reason that it points to the biological "mother" as
the natural, indeed irreplacable, giver of care in those early
years. Mrs. Clinton's project--just as Alva Myrdal's project in
Sweden 60 years earlier--is not about what is good for little
children; it is about replacing mothers with caregivers paid by
and beholden to the state.
is socialism, my friends, a direct assault on the integrity and
independence of families, who through all time have been the
only reliable rivals to governmental power. The current Federal
system of subsidies and tax preferences for substitute child
care directly suppresses families and works to eliminate mother
care. The child care plans announced by Mr. Clinton earlier this
month simply expand the direct federal assault on home and
some, such as Mr. Rubin, will still ask: Don't these programs
make good economic sense? Don't they help sustain a strong
economy and make us more competitive?
at fundamental, and long term levels, quite the opposite is
true. Mrs. Clinton and friends would have you believe that
mothers-at-home do little more than lounge about, watching soap
operas and eating bon-bons. In fact, as any real person knows,
the mother-at-home is deeply involved in a vast array of
productive economic tasks: child care, early childhood
development, primary moral and practical education, food
preservation and preparation, gardening, primary pediatric care,
and home maintenance, just to start the list. The major
difference is that the mother-at-home performs these tasks
outside a cash nexus: she receives no monetary salary; and,
significantly, she pays no tax (which may be another reason why
she is no longer honored by the state). The gains from her
labors are shared freely with her husband and children, and the
family as an institution grows stronger through her commitment
to "home production," to homemaking.
child care, in contrast, depends on state subsidy. "Safe,
affordable, accessible quality care"--as the Clintonian
mantra has it--is very expensive: adequate infant care costs
$12,000 a year; adequate toddler care will cost $6,000 to $8,000
a year. When these sums are added to the other costs of
employment--marginal taxes, another car, wardrobe, more frequent
restaurant visits, and, most significantly, foregone "home
production"--the gains for sending mother into the
workplace sharply diminish, even in a society where the
"family wage" has vanished. State subsidy is
necessary, at the margins, to make this system of weakened
families and communal child care hold together. G.K. Chesterton
was right: There is no economic sense in taking in each other's
small children. Ideology and politics, not the marketplace,
drives our child care debate. Subsidized non-parental care of
infants and toddlers has become in 1998 the Trojan Horse for
building the complete welfare state.
let us shake free from the cloud of deceit that swirls about
this issue, and ask: What do babies really need?
Stanley Greenspan, Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at
George Washington University Medical School, gives clear answers
in his book, THE GROWTH OF THE MIND: THE ENDANGERED ORIGINS OF
INTELLIGENCE. Briefly, all children need six things for their
brain, personality, and emotions to develop properly during
their critical first three years:
ongoing, loving, and intimate relationship--taking years,
not months--with one (or at most two) caregivers in order
to develop caring, empathy, and trust;
sounds, touches and other sensations tailored to the
baby's unique nervous system in order to foster learning,
language, awareness, attention, and self-control;
"emotional dialogue" between an adult and baby
made up of long sequences of back-and-forth smiles,
smirks, sounds, body motion, and so on. This interaction
fosters a sense of self, logic, communication skills, and
without words, or long dialogues with gestures to solve
problems, which foster thinking and social skills.
use of creative ideas through pretend play between a
caregiver and a child and the negotiation of basic needs
("Juice!"), which foster language and
The logical use of ideas through a caregiver asking a
child's opinion and through mini-debates, which develop
logical thinking, planning, and a readiness for reading
are not interactions that can occur during an hour of
"quality time" at night. During the critical first
three years of life, children need these experiences during half
or more of their waking hours.
disciplines and terminology, these tasks must also be seen as
steps in the development of what economists call human capital.
Here--in the intellectual, emotional, and moral quality of the
young--is where the real test of future competitiveness lies.
Dr. Greenspan shows that the very nature of child care
centers--even excellent and expensive ones--deny three of these
critical six needs (ongoing intimate relationships; lengthy
emotional dialogues; and long problem-solving discussions with
gestures). If your concern is the development of babies and
toddlers into healthy, capable, well-adjusted, and productive
adults, substitute child care is not only inferior, but damaging
to human potential, both economic and personal.
this we need add the overwhelming evidence that commercial child
care also poses a special threat to the physical and mental
health of children. Children in day care are at nearly 100
percent increased risk for contracting serious, life-threatening
diseases such as hemophilus influenza and meningitis. They are
four-and-a-half times more likely than home-cared children to
contract infections, and nearly three times as likely to need
hospitalization. Children in commercial care are also much more
at risk of contracting upper respiratory tract infections,
gastrointestinal disorders, ear infections, mycobacterium
tuberculosis, salmonella, Herpes simplex, rubella, hepatitus A
& B, scabies, dwarf tapeworm, pinworms, and diarrhea.
Indeed, a recent special issue of the journal PEDIATRICS ANNALS,
was devoted to day care diseases, and carried a lead editorial
entitled: "Day Care, Day Care: May Day! May Day!" It
chronicled the enormous public health problems, a virtual
epidemic of childhood disease, caused by this national turn to
substitute child care.
is still another vast body of research documenting that children
in commerical child care bear significantly higher risks for
social and emotional disruption: from attachment problems, to
heightened aggression, to lower responsiveness, to poorer
subsequent performance in school.
the honest research evidence is overwhelming: Non-parental child
care is inferior to at-home care. While it can stand as a
necessary option for families in special circumstances, there
can be no rational justification for giving substitute care the
preferred political status it now enjoys. Indeed, it bears
intellectual, medical, and psychological risks that would simply
be unacceptable if the issue were anything else.
nearly 30 years, our Federal government has actively subsidized
and promoted a program that is bad for children, bad for
families, and bad for the economic future of the nation. We can
understand this only if we recognize the ideological agenda
behind this campaign: the fusion of radical feminism to
socialism through the device of the modern welfare state. It was
ideology not economic necessity, that brought us to this place.
It was ideology, not economics, that distorted the labor market
in a manner that places new pressures on young families, pushing
them to choose non-parental care. Our prospects for finding a
better path in the future must begin with that recognition.
there, we can chart an alternate agenda that would end this
unholy Federal war on the family, and create a system truly
based on freedom of choice. It would include:
an end to the tax preferences given to commercial, non-parental
child care. For example, the current Dependent Care Tax Credit
could either be scrapped, or replaced by a universal early
childhood tax credit, valued at $700 per child, and available to
all taxpaying parents with children through age five, regardless
of how parents choose to care for their children;
greater freedom for proven methods of reconciling paid labor and
home life, such as part-time work, flex-time, telecommuting, and
Third, an end to the Federal campaign of sex-role or gender-role
engineering, which rests on historical lies and wars against
those common sense cultural arrangements, such as the
"family wage," that have successfully sustained the
family within a modern economy.
current Pontiff, John Paul II, has written: "We are all
called to promote an environment favorable to the family, and,
therefore, to motherhood and fatherhood, an environment where,
increasingly, the optimal conditions can be found...[so] that
the family can develop its own riches: fidelity, fecundity, and
intimacy enriched by an openness to others."
fecundity, and intimacy: These are, indeed, riches bearing their
own inestimable value, ones threatened by the current direction
of our nation's public policy. It is time to choose a different
path, the path we might call the family way, so that our
children and grandchildren might indeed grow to their full
potential as children of God.